Sunday, August 11, 2013

Religion, Praise and Worship, and Stuff in Between

Today I had the awesome privilege of attending worship service at one of our UKZN research team member's (Thula) church--the Durban Christian Center.  Let me just say, I am used to praise teams and praise and worship services in the historically black churches in the US being high energy, creative and even dramatic however the praise and worship service at DCC was far more electric and uplifting above any others that I have experience bar none.  I want to thank the Pastor, Rev. Llewllyn Rogers who was so gracious and kind and allowed me to have tea with him and his ministerial staff (including his wife Sylvia) in between services.  I went this morning to the early morning service but the first service was so amazing that I decided to stay for the second service.

I know that religious practices and spiritual rituals can be tricky to discuss in a public setting like a blog especially one linked to a  university-sponsored research project.  In fact religion and spirituality can be a challenge to discuss in general among "mixed company" or within a diverse population where there are people of many faiths or who are professed agnostics or atheists.  Religion is a cultural construct and therefore its expression and interpretation are culturally relevant.  Religion is a powerful cultural construct however and as history has shown, it  can be used for good and for bad.   In fact just yesterday Monique and I were at a new restaurant that just opened in Umbilo.  Monique had gone in to consult with the one of the owners--the wife in a family owned business. The owners are an Indian couple however they are devout Christians as evident by the pictures they have hanging in the restaurant, the open bible on the counter and a conversation that we had, which  left both Monique and I flabbergasted and Monique offended.  Short end of the story is that the husband without prompting or inquiry said that Jews would not go to heaven because they didn't believe in Jesus--period.  "If God sends a bus to take you downtown and you refuse to get on the bus no matter who you pray to standing out there or what you beleive you won't get down town.  Well its the same with not beleiving Jesus--he is the way," Mr. M said. I must say that even as a Christian I was grieved and floored.  And, the poor man's wife  and teenage son were so embarrassed and apologetic of the husband's brazen and dogmatic statement. Monique handled it well I must say but you could tell she was very annoyed.  She shared a painful story about how her eight year old son had been told some thing similar earlier that week at school by a child.  All I could think of is that this is the very reason why Christinaity gets such a bad rep.  I was also reminded of a story about the Muslim who meets Christian missionaries on a dirt road and with bible and "sinners repentance" tracks in hand  they try to convert the Muslim by asking him: "Mr. do you know Jesus?"  The muslim man responds:  "Why yes your Jesus I love but your religion I want no part of."

Karl Marx in his critique of Hegel's philosophy asserted:  "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."   Marx's statement is highly debatable--endorsed  by some and criticized by  others.  No matter what side of this debate your are on I do think that there is a consensus that religion is a powerful tool and in the wrong hands, hearts or minds it can be highly destructive.  (By the way if you haven't seen The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington you MUST--it illustrates this point masterfully.)

What I have found less contentious  however is the notion of praise and worship.  Praise and worship be it God, Allah, Buddha, or some natural element of the universe e.g.the sun, moon earth --or whatever one chooses to deify--praise and worship are universal.   In my faith's (Christianity) spiritual practice--praise and worship play a huge part in how we demonstrate and express homage and tribute to God.  The service today at Durban Christian Center was bilingual--performed in both Zulu and English.  Even though I couldn't understand the songs in Zulu I could feel the spirit of the songs and was able to pay tribute to God through praise in accordance with my faith tradition.  This service was an AWESOME and uplifting spiritual experience!  The praise dances that the men were doing reminded me of the step shows that black fraternities (and sororities) perform as part of their tradition as well.  I couldn't help but wonder if some of the steps actually originated from religious ceremonial dances and rituals performed by the Zulu and other African tribes.

 One of my favorite scientists--Albert Einstein who once said:  "science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind."  I am so glad that as a social scientist and a person of faith I do not have to chose between the two but can appreciate the important role that both play in understanding and influencing human societies and behavior.

P.S. I hope the link to the video works.

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